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Once seen as a place for startups to escape from, France has established itself as a hothouse of startup talent. The La French Tech initiative has seen funding and support for startups skyrocket, thanks in large part to the creation of tech hubs in 13 cities and four regions around the country.

All of these cities have their strong suits, and many have been specifically designed to support particular industries. There’s almost no bad city in France to start a new tech company - but here are just a handful of our favourite cities to both work and live.

Paris

Where else could we start? Paris is one of the most desirable destinations in the world, combining incredible history and culture with exclusive shopping districts and gorgeous eateries. It’s a testament to how incredible Paris is that it’s both the most visited city in the world, and one of the best places to live. Its sprawl of arrondissements offer something for everyone, and no location is without its charms.

Being that desirable often means being expensive, and Paris certainly isn’t the cheapest place to live. But La French Tech and others have worked hard to ensure that the benefits for startups outweigh the costs. The beating heart of this is arguably Station F, the largest startup campus in the world. Opened in 2017, Station F offers affordable working spaces and facilities for startups alongside some of the world’s biggest names, including Microsoft, L’Oreal, Google and Ubisoft.

Station F has been followed by Partech Shaker, a nine-story startup campus with room for over 270 companies, and home to the TechStars-Paris incubator. Funding from incubators and angel investors is flooding into Paris as a result of this startup boom, with 24 funding rounds from major international investors in the first 8 months of last year. France as a whole is now home to 11 tech ‘unicorns’ (billion dollar companies) - and almost all of them are in Paris.

Lyon

France’s second largest and second richest metropolitan area is all things to all people. A historic capital, industrial centre and food mecca, Lyon has increasingly developed a reputation for cutting-edge businesses. As well as being a longstanding centre of finance, Lyon has become renowned for its tech startups, with specialities including chemical and pharmaceutical production, biotech research, and a burgeoning software industry.

Bordering two of France’s best wine-growing regions and home to multiple Michelin star chefs, there’s little doubt that Lyon is a fabulous place to live and work. But its suitability for startups is more than a match for the lifestyle. Concerted work by Lyon’s Economic Development Agency had led to the development of startup spaces and strong broadband infrastructure, attracting large companies including EA France and Bandai Namco, as well as fostering Arkane Studios, responsible for the hit video game series Dishonored. 

Lyon’s early investment in tech infrastructure made it France’s first smart connected city, and the second to achieve digital hub accreditation. A centre of invention and innovation for centuries - it’s the birthplace of cinema pioneers the Lumière brothers - Lyon is now a prime area for research and development. Lyon ranks second in France for patent applications, R&D spending, and collaborations between education and research centres, and hosts over 13,000 researchers and 5,400 PhD students - making it a hotbed of tech talent.

Montpellier

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A lesser-known city for many people, Montpellier is one of France’s biggest success stories. A centre of medieval learning and a jewel of the Mediterranean coast, Montpellier has experienced the highest population growth of any city in France since the millennium. This is in no small part due to its litany of educational institutions, with its 70,000+ students making up one quarter of the entire population.

Home to two major universities, nine scientific institutions and two business schools, Montpellier is undoubtedly an excellent source for talent. Many graduate into the 8,400 digital companies currently in the city, and collaborate through the city’s five major business associations. Others jump straight into their own startups, taking advantage of the city’s great infrastructure and relative affordability.

La French Tech has a huge presence in Montpellier, with its colours adorning the old City Hall, now a major tech startup incubator. Other incubators include the Cap Omega Business and Innovation Centre, which offers ‘personalised and modular office solutions’, and the Montpellier International Business Incubator (MIBI) - an ideal starting point for any foreign citizens looking to start up in the city.

Nice

Nice by name, nice by nature. Nice (that’s pronounced ‘niece’) has been one of France’s most desirable cities since the 18th century, when it became a favourite retreat of the English aristocracy. The scenery and natural lighting have made it a home and haven for artists down the centuries, with works by Matisse and Chagall littering Nice’s many museums and galleries.

Situated on the sunny French Riviera, Nice is part of the French Tech Côte d’Azur regional hub. Perhaps surprisingly, Nice is actually one of France's oldest startup hotspots, and hosts Europe's first ever science park, founded in 1969. Sophia Antipolis (as it's called) is still going strong, and now hosts 2,230 companies employing over 36,000 people. 

The long history of science and research in Nice has naturally evolved into a range of IT and tech specialities, including software-as-a-service (SaaS) and fintech. The European Center of Enterprises and Innovation (CEEI) in Nice provides office space, support and access to accelerator funding, while incubators include BA06 Accelerator and Creacannes, based in nearby Cannes. 

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What stands out about France is not just the quality of its startup destinations, but its strength in depth. The focus on regional development and the La French Tech hub scheme have ensured that entrepreneurs can find resources, support and funding across the country - making now as good a time as any to start your new business in France.

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